Staged Photography and the Performance of Autofacture: Cross-Genre Impersonation in Cindy Sherman’s Self-Portraits

By Pamela Karantonis.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will use Roland Barthes’ observation of staged photography as a primitive form of theatre as its theoretical point of departure in order to reconcile both the theatrical and visual codes at play in Cindy Sherman’s self-portraiture of the 1980s and 1990s and the relevance of this to performance studies today. Accordingly, Sherman’s creations provoke and challenge the theoretical discourses of visual and performances cultures in their staging of the crises in representation and reception of the image and the genre. This may be reconciled with the enduring preoccupation of a theatre of images in contemporary performance-making in Western culture, effected by the deconstruction of character. Through her self-fashioning, Sherman’s ‘subject’ acquires an object-like status bearing the layered signification of historical costume, detectable prostheses, ill-fitting wigs, beards and grotesquely unnatural make-up that interpolates with the desires and expectations of the spectator in unraveling the meanings of these signs. The foregrounding of these signs function as a Verfremdsdungseffekt of identity; one of the legacies of Bertolt Brecht’s experiments in the theatre. Staged photography therefore is a liminal and challenging genre which calls into question the philosophical dichotomy of representation as truth or representation as fabrication; the latter being at the heart of the anti-theatrical prejudice, evident in historical literature. In presenting herself as the impostor of art and cinematic history in her self-portraiture, Cindy Sherman’s performance appears histrionic, in a way that has roots in psychoanalytic theories of visual culture. However, Sherman’s achievement of deconstructed imitation calls a number of theoretical assumptions into question about the processes of authorship and the unity of genre. The limits of the visible ‘subject’ are all destabilised to suggest the powerful arrangement of an impersonation.

Keywords: Mimesis, Impersonation, Performance

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.37-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 517.722KB).

Dr. Pamela Karantonis

Senior Lecturer in Drama, Department of Drama, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Pamela is a Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of the West of England, Bristol. She has a practical interest in the areas of opera, contemporary experimental performance and postcolonial theory. She has also taught at the University of New South Wales Sydney, where she completed her doctoral thesis. She is an active researcher with the Music Theatre Working Group of the International Federation for Theatre Research. Additionally Pamela has presented papers at conferences held by the Theatre and Performance Research Association and the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. She has published with the Journal Studies in Musical Theatre.


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